Every person has their breaking point … coaches, especially.
Craig Smith’s came in the top of the fourth inning with his Kershaw County American Legion baseball team trailing visiting Horry County, 2-1, in Monday’s state playoff series opener at American Legion Park in Camden.
After having seen his team commit its fourth error in two innings, the third-year Post 17 boss called a time out and changed up his team’s defense on the fly, so to speak.
The moves paid off handsomely as the locals would score nine unanswered runs to take the 11-2 victory in the best-of-five first round series which moved to Conway on Tuesday for game two before returning to Camden tonight for game three at 7 p.m.
How the hosts only trailed by one run after three and a half innings in which they botched two ground balls and a pair of throws was not so much a mystery when you consider that Zac Bowers was on the mound. The unflappable right-hander did not let the defensive miscues bother him as he improved to 6-1 on the season by throwing three-hit ball for eight and a third innings before handing the ball to Jake Brazell, who retired the final two batters of the night.
“If Zac doesn’t pitch as well as he does,” Smith said of Bowers’ cool demeanor on the mound in the first half of this game, “we’re down 5-1 or, 6-1, early.
“I’m just so proud of Zac and the effort that he gives us every time he goes to the mound. He goes out with that mentality that he’s going to refuse to lose.”
Bowers, an Erskine signee, finished his 99-pitch stint by fanning five batters and walking only one.
Accuracy was hardly the long suit for Post 111 on this night as a trio of Horry County pitchers combined to allow just six hits but walked twice that many while hitting a pair of batters in a game in which the hosts were finally able to put this one away with a seven-run bottom of the eighth.
Smith was extremely proud of the patience shown by his batters who did not swing at very many bad pitches on a night in which they only struck out three times.
“We did a good job of being selective at the plate,” Smith said of an offense which had just six hits, all singles. “It was all due to our approach at the plate.
“Their first pitcher’s (Bryce McCord) fastball was a little sneaky; it got on you quicker than it looked from watching it in the dugout. We didn’t make good adjustments early in the ball game but we made better ones later and we went back to doing the things that we do well.”
Half the 17ers’ hits came in their final at-bat in which they sent 11 batters to the plate while going through a pair of pitchers.
While KC was error-prone in innings three and four, it was a Post 111 error in the bottom of the first which led to the game’s first run.
Russ Radcliff opened the first by drawing a walk before being bunted to second by Bradwin Salmond. Tyler Bowers followed with a comebacker to McCord. Radcliff was running on contact and found himself caught between second and third while being chased down by McCord. But McCord’s off-balance throw to third was high and away as Radcliff took third and then, scored on the play.
Horry County evened things with an unearned run in the third and another of the same variety in the fourth to take a 2-1 advantage. The miscues were spread evenly from third to second to third and shortstop all playing a role. Through it all, Zac Bowers stood tall as he limited the damage with the visitors leaving runners on second and third in the third inning and on the corners in the fourth.
Bowers would not give up a hit the rest of the way as he faced just 14 batters from the end of the fourth through his leaving the game with a strikeout to open the ninth.
Able to smile after the win, Smith said his team looked a bit rusty after having had just one practice on Sunday after having been given three days of rest before that off.
“We won’t give them three days off again,” he said with a laugh. “We had a good practice (Sunday) but I could tell tonight that after being off for three days and just being in a playoff situation, it took a little while for us to catch our groove.
“We did everything in our power to give them the game in the first three or four innings. We couldn’t field a ground ball … the first three or four innings were about as ugly as we could have played. We didn’t have good pitch selection at the plate, either. Everything we saw, we were trying to hit out of the park. Finally, we were ableto start settling down a bit.”
The P-17 offense would give Bowers the cushion he needed by pushing across three runs in the fourth.
McCord was his own worst enemy in issuing consecutive one-out walks to Lawson Stokes and Ethan Beasley before hitting Blake Serpas to load the bases for Austin Hayes, who plated Stokes with the tying run on a walk. Radcliff reached on an infield single to bring Bradley in with the eventual game-winning run before Salmond’s ground out to second base drove in Serpas for the 4-2 lead.
McCord rebounded from his bumpy fourth and settled down before giving way to Mason Maybery who came on to start the sixth. Things came would come unraveled for Maybery and the guests in the eighth.
Once again, Post 111 was victimized by walks as Maybery issued four in a row to Serpas, Hayes, Radcliff and Salmond with one out before giving way to Colten Redish, who was greeted by a Tyler Bowers single to right which made it 6-2. Gunner Smith followed by lining a hard chopper to left to bring in Radcliff and Salmond to hike the advantage to 8-2.
Grayson King made it three hits in a row with a single to center which brought Tyler Bowers around from second with the ninth run. Gunner Smith and King would close the scoring as they came in on a wild pitch and passed ball, respectively.
“In the eighth inning,” Craig Smith said, “we came out and did our thing. We did what we were supposed to do; we hit the ball through the holes and not try to drive it out of the park. We played base-to-base and, our defense settled down after the fourth inning and we made the routine plays.”
The scouting report which Smith received on Horry County from Florence Post 1 head coach Derick Urquhart was that the visitors from Conway did not have much power but did not strike out a lot and would put the ball in play and force the opposition to play defense. That held true in game one.
Smith said he was unsure as to what Post 111 has left in the pitching department but said he felt good about KC’s sending Grey Hoke to the mound on Tuesday with Grayson King, who is coming off his best performance of the season in a win over Sumter last Wednesday, getting the ball to start tonight’s third game.
With the uncertainty of the weather and late-afternoon thunderstorms at this time of year, which could push games back a day, and with the second round of the playoffs slated to start next Monday, Smith said he and his team would like nothing better than to make this a quick series, if possible.
“We like the way the next two nights look for us,” said the third-year KC boss. “We play with a lot of confidence behind all our pitchers. You have to like your chances any time Grey Hoke goes to the mound and when Grayson (King) comes in and pounds the zone, you like your chances there.
“We just need to play good defense and put the ball in play.”
Keeping POSTed: Due to his leaving for vacation next week, Zac Bowers will be unavailable should the 17ers advance to the second round of the playoffs. The locals will also be without catcher Christian Flick for several days due to his being on vacation which means Hayes will probably not get a break behind the plate for, at least, the reminder of this series … After playing less than a handful of innings since being injured when he was hit by a pitch on the right ankle against Manning-Santee on June 18 --- after having been plunked three times the game before --- Serpas was again a ball magnet in being hit by a pitch in his first at-bat on Monday after having been inserted into the game in the top of the fourth inning … KC improved to 18-7 on the season with this win … Neither side had a double, triple, home run or, a stolen base Monday night while KC’s Grayson King was the lone player to have a two-hit game for the winners.